Dear Sisters and Brothers: Pope Francis presided at the Mass for the opening of our General Chapter in August 2013 and he called us to celebrate next year, 2015, as the Year of Consecrated Life...
IN CELEBRATION OF THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE
To search for a necessary and suitable renewal of religious life as a concrete way to celebrate the “YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE”.
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
Pope Francis presided at the Mass for the opening of our General Chapter in August 2013 and he called us to celebrate next year, 2015, as the Year of Consecrated Life. The remembrance of this day gives me the opportunity to be in contact with the whole Order so that this event will resound again in each one of our sisters and brothers and in all of our communities. May this up-coming celebration be a time of grace as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and, in particular, the fiftieth anniversary of the Council’s decree on the appropriate renewal of religious life, Perfectae caritatis, published in 1965.
In the words of Cardinal Braz de Aviz, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, CIVCSVA, this year has three major objectives in mind: to remember with a grateful memory the recent past of history of religious life, to embrace the future with hope, and to live the present moment with passion: Thankfulness for the past, hope for the future and passion in the present. Three basic attitudes—gratitude, hope and passion—that constitute the moving force of life. In the Augustinian version of this, we can say: to give thanks to God who is the giver of all good things (Rule VIII, 49), to take on the future as people who are blessed and happy in hope (The City of God XIX, 4, 5) and to live the present time with passion and with openness to the Spirit, “holding on to love, loving truth, desiring unity” (Sermon 267, 4)
In this way, the YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE can contribute to the healing of our weaknesses, to the strengthening of our fraternity and to the promoting of a more resolved openness to the emerging scenarios such as the world of the youth, of the laity, of the family, of the care for the most fragile ones of the world (Evangelii gaudium 209), of the mission to the nations.
The very timely reason for this celebration is to be found in the date of the publication of the document of the Second Vatican Council dedicated specifically to the consecrated life: the decree Perfectae caritatis that Pope Paul VI signed on 28 October 1965. This is a text that keeps its freshness and timeliness even though the half-century that has passed has brought to consecrated life a time of profound transformations. From the vantage point of the Second Vatican Council no one could have foreseen a history and an ecclesial landscape so different, that sometimes—disregarding the necessary theological and anthropological keys to understanding—they have been judged with too lightly. To think that a council has an automatic renewing effect would be naïve, and to accuse the Second Vatican Council of being a thicket of confusion in the life of the Church sounds frivolous.
As often happens, clichés prevail with regard to the serious study of documents and a conciliar spirit has been disseminated that, at times, is an accommodating reflection and not the central message of the texts elaborated in the meeting hall of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Therefore this is a very timely reminder that the YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE offers an opportunity for a new reading—perhaps even more reflective and with a wider field of vision—of the decree that the Second Vatican Council elaborated as it thought about the appropriate renewal of religious life. It is worth saying that the writing of the decree—brief in so far as its length and sober in its content—was highly valued with a vote of 2,126 in favor and 13 opposed. It was the first time that a council dealt with the theology of consecrated life in a full way by highlighting its importance and its place in an ecclesial context (cf. Lumen gentium, 44).
For the Church, consecrated life has been very important and has always been the leaven o holiness and apostolic zeal. Everything has been in function of the authenticity of the life of those who are consecrated, in such a way that “the more strongly they are bound to Christ by their own personal dedication, the more the life of the Church progresses and the more vigorously is its apostolate made fruitful” (Perfectae caritatis, 1). The same Spirit which gave consecrated life to the Church leads us to contemplate the world and the x-ray of our life from a theological point of view. It is good to remember that the driving force of consecrated life is nothing less than the Spirit and that under the Spirit’s impulse it is possible to be reborn, to renew ourselves (Perfectae caritatis, 2). Apart from the statistical data our numerical growth is not increasing and we find ourselves surrounded by a panorama of drought and of poverty, like that which the prophet Habakkuk contemplated, our response cannot be other than that of the prophet without homeland and without name who, in a time of extreme difficulty, represents an expectant people: “Though the fig tree blossom not, nor fruit be on the vines, though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment, though the flocks disappear from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights” (Hab 3, 17-19).
The decree Perfectae caritatis points out and makes concrete the general principles for an appropriate renewal of religious life (cf. PC 2):
-The constant return to the sources of the Christian life (the baptismal roots of our life). To remember that Baptism inserts us into Christ and into his mystery of death and resurrection and binds together in communion those who are consecrated and the rest of the People of God. Consecrated life is not an oasis in the Church, but rather it is immersed into the Church enriched “with diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts” (Lumen gentium, 4). Both are essential for the life of the Church and for the efficacy of its missionary activity. We stand before the equality and the co-responsibility of all those who are baptized. The distinct ministries, charisms, and forms of life are all indebted to each other, and create a dynamic experience of communion.
These distinct ways and vocations are different translations of the one and same Christian life which manifests itself through the harmony of the whole Church body. Vocations and gifts that differ but are complementary are there in order to announce the Gospel in and efficacious way in the world today.
- Return to the original inspiration of the institutes (Charismatic dimension). We can stumble here with the recurrent appeal to the lack of definition of Augustinian identity, which over time has been considered an open question. Today, on the contrary, now we can make the effort for synthesis and with the help of history bring ourselves closer to a descriptive point which springs from the same monastic model of Saint Augustine.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents a community in which “all were thinking and feeling the same thing: they were possessing all in common and no one was claiming anything as his own; rather everything was held in common” (Acts 4, 32). With this story in his mind and in his heart, Augustine “instituted the monastery and began to live with the servants of God according to the way and the rule established by the apostles, that is, without possessing anything as their own and everything being all in common in the monastery” (Possidius, Life of Saint Augustine, V).
Thus, Augustine sought to give shape to the dream of a community dedicated to study and to prayer. Why live together? To share the journey toward God (Rule, I, 3). On this basis, in which, even more than contemplation, silence, study and dialogue, the human relations of friendship, acceptance, compassion and mutuality are held in particular importance, Augustine lifts up community of life which is fundamentally a spiritual event. This is not a human construction, but rather the unity of charity that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
This initial project will soon receive diverse modifications due to the entrance of the priesthood and the episcopacy for some of the monks who were living in Augustinian monasteries. The needs of the Church do not suppose a collision with the central core of the community and apostolic life enters to form part of the same community project. The first missionary action, however, centers itself in that which the community is and in that which the community lives.
After centuries, the Augustinians are integrated into the monastic current, which was to be characterized by the prayerful encounter with the Word of God and the evangelizing witness in the world (Cf. L. MARÍN DE SAN MARTÍN, The Augustinians: Origins and Spirituality, Rome (2013) 194–198). The one and only mission of evangelizing by means of announcing the kingdom of God, which is made reality in Jesus Christ, goes along adjusting itself—in a permanent exercise of discernment—shaping itself to parochial ministry, to the nations/ad gentes, to educational ministry, prison ministry, health care ministry, to the means of social communication… different ways of immersing oneself in the Church and in the world in order to transmit the message of the gospel through distinct channels and forms of expression.
Saint Augustine coined a spirituality, which rests—in the judgment of specialists—on four pillars: interiority, community, poverty and ecclesiology: interiority is the path of access to the encounter with one’s self and with God; community, which is a theological reality, before it is an ascetical one, a grace before it is a merit a determination of those who make of their life a pilgrimage toward God; poverty which is expressed in work and made visible in the austerity of life, the sharing of goods among ourselves and with the weakest of the earth; ecclesiology which is availability for service to Mother Church and contributes to pastoral action—from our own charismatic identity—the essential evangelical values.
-Adaptation of our life and of our works to the new conditions of the times (mission). The Second Vatican Council notes that religious life does not pertain to the archeology of past times, but rather it is a call to establish an evangelizing dialogue with the times, and in the terminology of Pope Francis, to a “pastoral conversion” (Evangelii gaudium, 25).
Centripetal discourse which leads us to self-reference does not help. Life, Church, World are much greater than our approaches which at times are short range. Pope Francis—in line with the Document of Aparecida—chooses for a pastoral approach that is decidedly missionary (Evangelii gaudium, 15) and which invites us “to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking the evangelizing objectives, structures, style and methods of our own communities” (Evangelii gaudium, 33).
Pastoral conversion asks us all to enter into a process of renewal which affects equally our lives, our activities and our structures in order to become appropriate channels of evangelization. There are two principles that we must always keep before us: the continuity of theological data and the historicity of the forms that permit us to speak about a “creative fidelity” in the current historical moment, as Saint Pope John Paul II suggests in his Magna Carta on the consecrated life (cf. Vita consecrata, 37).
The decree points out that the authenticity of the spiritual life is the foundation of every attempt at renewal. A spiritual life that, in our case, will be nourished by the inexhaustible source of Augustinian Spirituality and by the ecclesial communion so that we can perform the task that the Second Vatican Council recommends to us to live and to experience more and more with the Church and by consecrating ourselves totally to its mission (Perfectae caritatis, 6). As Augustinian religious men and women we can contribute decisively to “make the Church the home and the school of communion” (Novo millennio ineunte, 43). A communion which will be the gift of the Spirit of Jesus which is, at the same time, the driving force for conversion and for mission.
Consecrated life is the actualization of the first Pentecost. Much more so in this time of ours which is a time of fears and perplexities. Like the first disciples, the first temptation is to lock the doors, to think that the outside world is opposed and that our life is incomprehensible to most people. The Spirit is the soul of consecrated life which waters the land in drought, which looks at the loneliness and emptiness of humanity, which sends the light that illumines our path, which gives life to the dry and dispersed bones, which brings harmony to the different parts of the body, which makes us truly free, which opens out to the hope of the Kingdom, which remains with us until the Risen One returns.
This memory of the Spirit on Pentecost is the feast of the Church, par excellence, the Church is born near to Mary in the communion of all those called together by the same Lord. And in the Church consecrated life emerges like “a gift of God the Father to His Church by means of the Spirit" (Vita consecrata, 1). A precious gift and necessary for the present and the future of the People of God (Vita consecrata, 3).
A final word concerning the challenge of formation. The conciliar document shows a marked sensitivity for formation as the center of the whole process of renewal (Perfectae caritatis, 18). It is not treated as a pedagogical time but rather it represents a theological way of thinking about consecrated life itself which is, in itself, a process of conversion and of growth that never ends.
Sisters and brothers, may this YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE find a particular resonance in each one of us and in our communities. May it be an opportunity so that the fresh air that the pontificate of Pope Francis has brought—the message of the joy that is born from the Gospel and fills the heart—give breath to our life and blow through our community setting. Indoors we must search for the moment and the way to celebrate our vocation, and outdoors we must search for occasions to meet with the diocesan Church and with other religious institutes in order to show through the colors of the different charisms the great gift of the Spirit which is consecrated life for the Church and for the World.
Rome, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, 10 October 2014
Fr. Alejandro Moral Antón, Prior General, OSA